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Another from Minna Vineyard

After a recent look at the 2009 Minna Vineyard Red, this week I decided to check in on the Minna Vineyard White, in the 2010 vintage.

Whereas I have reasonably strong opinions on how the wines of the Loire should taste (at the same time remaining open-minded and enjoying a variety of styles), I don’t have such a strong feel for the France’s most southerly vineyards. So, to my mind, anything goes, especially when you look to unfamiliar regions such as the Bouches du Rhône where, in this case at least, the varieties used are Vermentino (which sounds Italian, but it is perhaps better known locally as Rolle, a grape long-established on Corsica and in the Var region of Provence), together with Roussanne and Marsanne (perhaps rather more familiar, especially to Rhône-o-philes).

Minna Vineyard White 2010

This particular wine is made from low yields, just 29 hl/ha, vinified in small 15-hectolitre stainless steel cuves, each variety fermented separately by indigenous yeasts. The malolactic fermentation is not inhibited, and the élevage is mostly in steel, with just 30% going into barriques, on the lees, for aging with bâtonnage. The wine was bottled in July 2012.

The 2010 Minna Vineyard White has a pale, lemon-straw hue in the glass, and an appealing and interesting nose, full of chalky minerals, lemon-sherbet tones, with little tinges of tropical fruit behind it, cut with a leafy, peach-skin bite. I think the Vermentino is showing through here quite strongly, and in terms of style and aroma I find it vaguely reminiscent of some of the high-quality Portuguese whites I have tasted over the last few years, with all their lemony fruit and perfumed, chalky minerality. The palate is cool and reserved, yet broad and fleshy, with plenty of tension and a cool, grippy fruit substance. A long pithy finish completes the picture. There is a nice minerally cut here. This has a really reserved, introverted, slightly leafy style, and provides some good drinking. 15/20 (July 2014)

A nice Southern Red: Minna Vineyard

It’s always fun to look at what’s going on in other regions beyond Bordeaux and the Loire, the two areas I focus on most within Winedoctor, whether it be through wines pulled from the cellar, or received samples such as this one.

The Villa Minna Vineyard has been family owned for eight decades. Abandoned after the death of the proprietor in 1979, his grandson breathed new life into it in the 1990s. The usual Southern French varieties including Syrah and Mourvèdre were planted, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Marselan (a Cabernet-Grencahe cross) and Caladoc (a Grenache-Malbec cross), and some whites. All five red varieties are blended in the Villa Minna range of wines, but just the three more noble varieties in the Minna Vineyard wines.

Minna Vineyard Red 2009

The 2009 Minna Vineyard Red (pictured above) comes from organically managed vineyards, picked by hand, with a yield in this vintage of just 12.3 hl/ha. The fermentation is in steel after a few days cold maceration. The wine then goes into barrels, with bâtonnage, for 24 months prior to bottling after a light filtration, but no fining. On the nose it has a wealth of sweet, dark, spiced fruits, the scents reminiscent of macerated berries, plum skins and pepper, laced with nuances of coffee and juniper berries too. As expected it has a very seductive texture in the mouth, full and concentrated, and sweet berry fruit, feeling substantial and macerated, and yet it doesn’t feel overdone. It is quite softly defined though, with rather low-key acidity, and some ripe tannins for backbone, which are plush, velvety, and only really show through in the finish. A warmer vintage, I suspect. Long and grippy, there is certainly some potential for the cellar here. 15.5/20 (May 2014)

2013 Reflections: Other Great Wines

In all honesty, beyond the Loire and Bordeaux, so focused is my attention on these two regions, the list of truly ‘great’ wines from other regions is rather short. Some wines do stick in my mind though, usually for the different experiences they offered. The 2008 World’s End Crossfire is one good example of this; I taste and drink very little from California, if indeed anything at all, so any bottles that come my way are bound to be of interest. This particular wine was all the more noteworthy for being a Jonathan Maltus wine, and I think there were traits within that I also see in his wines from closer to home, in St Emilion.

The 1998 Domaine Tempier Bandol La Tourtine I encountered a month or two ago was also fairly smart, but without a doubt the best non-Loire non-Bordeaux red wine experience of 2013 was the 1983 Chave Hermitage, which I drank at dinner with Jim Budd, Claude Papin, Vincent Ogereau and Yves Guégniard (it was Jim that brought the wine to dinner). Not only was this an excellent example of Hermitage (and it’s not that long since I last visited this particular part of the Rhône – was it 2012?) but it also brought back lots of memories of Chester Claret Club, a tasting group I once frequented, one where I learnt a lot from some very knowledgeable palates. This was just the sort of wine that would have cropped up in a Chester tasting. This bottle was in excellent nick, and was certainly one of my top reds of the year, full-stop.

2013 Reflections: Other Great Wines

Interestingly, the Rhône also yielded a very memorable white this year, the 2012 Pierre Gaillard Condrieu (above), a wine which spoke more of minerality and precision than most Viogniers could dream of doing. And Alsace also did fairly well, as I really enjoyed the 1993 Trimbach Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Émile – proof that Riesling really is immortal, regardless of whether or not the wine has residual sugar, as well as the 1998 Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Heimbourg. Not even one of Olivier Humbrecht’s top wines, this was a lovely example of why this domaine is so famous.

Some white wines for which I had high hopes managed to disappoint, including two from a trio from Domaine Cauhapé from the 2003 vintage. Only the 2003 Domaine Cauhapé Jurançon Noblesse du Temps really impressed, although even here I would have enjoyed more acidity I think. Well, that’s 2003 for you (I keeping saying this, I know).

2013 Reflections: Other Great Wines

Alright, so there are some decent wines here, but if there is one vinous theme I will forever associate with 2013 it is fortified wine, especially a burgeoning appreciation of Sherry, as well as some great fortified wine discoveries in Madeira. From Spain, the Cayetano del Pino (above) wines impressed greatly, especially the Palo Cortado. Being honest, I actually wrote about this wine on New Year’s Eve 2012, so I mush have drank it before 2013 began, but I’m including it here anyway. Well, why not? Also pretty good was the Osborne Sibarita Very Old Rare Oloroso, a rather full-on style for a 30-year old wine, but pretty good with it.

Things got really serious with Madeira this year when I visited the island during the summer. I was besotted with the Barbeito Madeira Colheita Canteiro Verdelho 1996, which I have since added to the cellar, but was blown away by the Barbeito Madeira Sercial 1910, closely followed by the Barbeito Madeira Malvasia 1834 (below). These wines have such fabulous vigour and life, it was impossible tasting them to believe they were 103 and 179 years old respectively. And from Blandy’s there were other memorable wines, including the Blandy’s Madeira Colheita Verdelho 1995 and particular the Blandy’s Madeira Bual 1968. None could match the Barbeito wines though. Getting an appointment at Blandy’s was pretty difficult, and eventually their UK importer set one up for me. This was more successful than my appointment at Henriques & Henriques, which I arranged myself, only to be stood up when I turned up on time, hence the absence of a Henriques & Henriques report after my return. Did somebody say the Madeira producers were struggling?

2013 Reflections: Other Great Wines

Returning to Spain for a moment, I discovered a new region named Lebrija thanks to UK wine merchant Warren Edwardes. Lebrija lies next-door to Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and seems – in my limited experience, admittedly – to have the potential for top quality wines which are apparently sold at rock-bottom prices. The González Palacios Lebrija Old Oloroso was my favourite of the two wines I tried. I know the wines of the Douro far better than I know any of these aforementioned regions, and yet I have had few memorable Ports this year, the only noteworthy bottle being the 1983 Warre’s Vintage Port. To be honest though, although this was a very fine bottle – 1983 was a good vintage, but not a remarkable one – I don’t think I would regard it as truly ‘great’, although the older Madeiras described above certainly were. I have, perhaps, been converted.

That’s enough looking back at 2013 I think. Tomorrow I will publish my disclosure sheet for the year, then it’s on with 2014. I can think of plenty of other Sherries I want to try.

A Few from the 1980s

After my recent review of the wines of the ever-popular Barsac estate Château Climens, featuring vintages back to 1981 and 1979, I was reminded that one of the aims of buying and cellaring wine was that, eventually, you’re supposed to retrieve the bottles from those dark and dingy corners of the cellar where they slumber, and drink them. With that in mind I pulled a few more bottles from the 1980s (I’m a bit short on representation from the 1970s, to be honest) in the past few weeks.

Two red wines first, beginning with an old favourite from my early days of wine exploration when I think I probably knew a lot more about the Rhône Valley than I do now. I’ve enjoyed a few bottles of this vintage of Vieux Télégraphe over the years, and happily I have one or two bottles still remaining. This one showed very well, on a par with the very appealing 1989 Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial from Marqués de Murrieta. Having said that, I think I would choose the latter over the former on most occasions; there’s just something very special about older Rioja. As for the 1989 Chasse-Spleen, I approached this with caution, as my last bottle had been rather off. This one, however, was just singing.

Three sweet wines follow, again from the 1988 and 1989 vintages. The 1989 Coutet has to be my favourite of the three, although I was very impressed by the 1989 Coteaux du Layon Les Coteaux from Domaine de la Roulerie. The wine over-performed for the appellation I think, even if the style was quite tertiary and unusual. I asked modern-day proprietor Philippe Germain about Les Coteaux and he didn’t have a clue which part of the vineyard it came from. The property was in the hands of the previous owner in 1989, and it doesn’t seem that very good records were kept. The 1988 Quarts de Chaume from Château Bellerive was also showing well, although perhaps not at the level I have experienced with other bottles. Perhaps this vintage is just tiring a little now. Perhaps, being honest, I have changed my expectation of what Quarts de Chaume can and should be. I have a few left; they should perhaps be drunk up, but I think I will keep them for some time yet, as an academic investigation into the plateau and decline of aged Quarts de Chaume if nothing else.

The final wine, from Warre, is still going strong even at over 30 years. It is a long way from the most highly regarded of vintages, but these bottles prove a consistent source of pleasure.

Tasting Notes

Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf du Pape 1988: For the appellation this has a surprisingly pale hue, showing moderate depth at its core, but fading out to an orange-tawny rim. The nose is evolved and expressive, and more interesting than I recall from previous tastings, with rich black truffle aromas, and sweet leather notes on top. There are faint tinges of game as well, but it is somewhat brighter than this description suggests, as there is also bay leaf and juniper berry to be found here. This is fleshy on the palate, so there is no suggestion that this might be drying out, and there is still quite some grip and spice to it; there is quite some energy here in fact. Long and savoury. Showing a slightly more convincing character than my poor memory tells me it has done before, although looking back at previous notes I said very similar things. A good wine indeed, and clearly very long lived. 17.5/20 (September 2013)

Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 1989: My last bottle of this, unless I am mistaken. Still plenty of colour in the decanter and glass, and as we would expect after prolonged wood-aging very little sediment too. The nose is really quite bright and feels a little lean at first, and it takes a couple of hours to really open up. Nice charcoal-tinged and cranberry-cherry fruit character on the nose, with the sweetness of fresh leather, scented with notes of sage, rosemary and black olive. Dark and slightly introverted, and yet defined and bright, like a slightly sour black cherry, to be more precise. Certainly an interesting nose here, captivating now, but with potential still. Some of these elements come through on the palate, with piles of fresh acids, gentle and rather reserved substance and a firm, bright, acid-bound character. A middle-weight wine, still with a savoury extract and substance, and plenty of fresh structure though. Still very good indeed. And very long too. 18/20 (September 2013)

Château Chasse-Spleen (Moulis) 1989: The last bottle I had of this, probably about three years ago now (where does the time go?) was obviously not showing well; this wine is absolutely singing on this occasion. The colour in the decanter and glass is confidently dark, with a nicely pigmented although certainly maturing rim. But it is in the nose that the wine truly reassures, with perfumed black fruits laced with hints of violets, and as it evolves in the glass also black tea leaves, bloody iron filings and even a hint of game. The palate shows a lovely harmony, and gentle sweetness, some really appealing grip and substance, and in the finish tangible extract and fresh structure. There’s a little length to it. Hugely convincing despite the wine’s age, with complex tertiary nuances of citrus alongside the more classically evolved character. On the whole, this is quite lovely. 17.5/20 (September 2013)

Château de la Roulerie Coteaux du Layon Les Coteaux 1989: This wine has a gentle, burnished gold. The nose is intriguing, opening out slowly over the course of an hour or so, showing scents of coffee and orange cake, with crunchy fruit. Overall it is fairly intense, with tertiary nuances of baked ham and cigar smoke. Despite this overly evolved character on the nose there is no suggestion that this wine is at the end of its life on the palate. There is still a glorious substance to it, a gently fleshy character with subtle hints of Demerara sugar, coffee, roasted plantain, baked corn and even a touch of sage. This is certainly complex and multi-faceted, although to be fair as the wine is given more time it does seem to tighten down into a lightly chewy, tangerine and peach sweetness, with a gently mellifluous texture. Overall, a lovely wine. 17/20 (September 2013)

Château Bellerive Quarts de Chaume 1988: A moderately rich orange-gold hue. The fruit on the nose is rich although certainly tempered by an organic and savoury edge to it. There is a seam of straw, desiccated fruit, dried apricot and lightly baked oranges. Does this latter element suggest a little oxidation on this particular bottle? The palate has a beautifully polished character, still showing a rich and deep sweetness despite the wine’s age, Very harmonious, with gentle acidity. Certainly no oxidation here, the fruit rich and concentrated, with a firm phenolic substance to the wine giving it a really appealing pithy grip towards the end, finishing up with some spice and a really fine length. Still showing the straw and sweetness of previous bottles, but not the caramel tinges I have noted. Overall, still delicious, but perhaps not at the level I have scored some bottles previously. 17/20 (September 2013)

Château Coutet (Sauternes) 1989: In the glass this has a rich, really quite fabulous orange-golden hue. The aromatics are no less remarkable than its rather radiant appearance, the fruit character redolent of bitter oranges, but this is more than matched by the scents of almonds, hazelnuts and praline also in evidence. It feels very lightly high-toned as well though, a sensation swirled with touches of quince and more of that bitter orange. The palate shows all of these flavours, with roasted botrytis character, carried along by a fabulously sweet, polished texture. There is also a layer of caramel underpinning it all, a great texture and obvious residual sugar. This is still going strong; no rush here. 18/20 (September 2013)

Warre’s Vintage Port 1980: A very fine, pure hue here, still with plenty of pigment and life to it. A very fine, savoury but pure and rather fragrant fruit on the nose, with some slightly sooty notes under the violets, but it is the fragrancy that dominates. This sense of purity comes through on the palate, which is very harmonious at the start and it maintains this character through the middle, and although it has grip and spirit to show here it remains appealing, composed and fresh. A wine of substance and light structure, more perhaps the texture and approachable sweetness is more prominent. There are figs, a fine macerated fruit character, and a firm, spicy backbone. The vintage is not regarded as a great one, but this is still a very fine and approachable wine. 17.5/20 (September 2013)

Pierre Gaillard, 2011 Vintage

I’ve already written up a couple of Gaillard wines this year, led by the delicious 2012 Condrieu from Pierre Gaillard, and also this week’s ‘Weekend Wine’, an appealing 2012 Collines Rhodaniennes Syrah from Pierre’s daughter, Jeanne. Here are notes on three other wines recently tasted, all barrel samples sent over to the UK:

Pierre Gaillard St Joseph 2011: Fresh and smoky character on the nose, scents of blackberry and raspberry on toast, quite pure, bright and defined, with a slightly crystalline but ripe edge to the fruit. Cool and fresh on the palate, bright, pure, a lightly chalky edge to the texture, with good grip and savoury bite. Great freshness to it. Plum skin and cherry stone notes. Cool, with restrained texture, and a sappy, savoury finish. Really appealing but speaks of a very cool style. 15-16/20 (May 2013)

Pierre Gaillard, 2011 Vintage

Pierre Gaillard St Joseph Clos de Cuminaille 2011: Fresh, fairly dark hue here, and a smoky berry fruit with nuances of oaky, chocolate-tinged coffee. A gentle texture though the middle, the fruit playing second fiddle to the wood here. This shows a slightly medicinal cherry character, with nuances of smoky bacon. A fresh and rather dry finish, with some woody, slightly bitter grip to it. I think I might prefer the more restrained fruit character of the St Joseph, but maybe this will absorb the oak given time. 15-16/20 (May 2013)

Pierre Gaillard Cote-Rotie 2011: A matt, rather claretty hue, with a moderate concentration of pigment. The nose opens out to reveal some classic young Syrah fruit, blackberries with that very typical twist of brown-sugar sweetness, nuanced with thyme, liquorice and fennel, and also a little floral perfume. The palate carries some lightly spiced, cedar-tinged fruit, with a lightly crunchy edge. Fresh, and showing early oak-tinged complexity. Some good potential here. 15.5-16.5/20 (May 2013)

Domaine de la Mordoree, 2011 Vintage

Although I used to drink a lot of wine from the Southern Rhône, it is a region I have turned away from in recent years, for various reasons. It’s good to catch up, and some primeur samples recently received and tasted have allowed me to do that.

To the best of my knowledge the 2011 vintage in the Rhône Valley followed a pattern very broadly similar to that in Bordeaux or the Loire, namely a warm spring, cool and disappointing summer, but then a long, warm benevolent autumn which allowed good ripening of the fruit before picking.

Two wines from Domaine de la Mordorée

These two wines from Domaine de la Mordorée (pictured above) struck me as particularly good quality; they don’t have the turbo-charged sur-maturité that ruins many of the wines (to my palate), but instead have concentration allied with freshness.

Domaine de la Mordorée Reine de Bois Lirac 2011: Very deep, concentrated, slightly matt but certainly very convincing hue. An equal blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah, with little or no wood influence. The fruit is 100% destemmed, macerated for 34 days, with a maximum temperature of 34°C, followed by élevage in 30% oak and 70% enameled steel tank. It shows attractive and concentrated fruit on the nose, most importantly with freshness and definition; it is ripe, overt and confident, but not over-ripe. The fruit profile maintains a smoky definition. The palate follows on in the same vein, being full of concentrated fruit, but still fresh and defined, with a full and grippy substance. Dark in character, with concentrated berry fruits, tinged with liquorice, roasted plum skin too, there are a ripe seam of tannins showing through at the finish. A delicious stye, good value, with a good structure. 15.5-16.5/20 (April 2013)

Domaine de la Mordorée Reine de Bois Châteauneuf du Pape 2011: This blend is Grenache 80%, Mourvèdre 10%, Syrah 5%, Counoise 2.5% and Vaccarese 2.5%. Like the Lirac this is 100% destemmed and macerated with a controlled temperature. It is fermentated in cement, then into 30% oak and 70% enameled steel tank for the élevage. A very concentrated, vibrant, crimson rim to this wine. Dark smoky concentrated fruit, with berries and plum skins, but also licked by honeyed oak. The palate is polished, concentrated too, bringing a sense of cream to it. It is grippy, with savoury and slightly bitter substance, with fresh fruit character too. Overall this is a really attractive wine, fresh and also more-ish, with a long finish. Really enticing. 16-17/20 (April 2013)

Domaine du Caillou, 2010 Vintage

Two wines here from Domaine du Caillou, a leading domaine in the Châteauneuf du Pape appellation. Both are from the 2010 vintage and were bottled very recently, in March 2012.

In terms of style these are definitely for fans of concentration, substance and texture. I find them rather on the warm and voluptuous side for my palate, but they are technically very good wines for sure. I have included prices for cases, in bond, from stockist Bancroft Wines.

The first comes from vines within the Clos du Caillou, but outside the Châteauneuf du Pape appellation as it was laid down in 1936. The fruit is fermented in wooden vats with a 30-day maceration, and délestage (emptying and refilling the vats, a very forceful method of ensuring the cap is mixed with the fermenting wine, enhancing extraction) as well as pigeage.The wine was bottled in March 2012, after 16 months in oak (different vessels for the two varieties featured).

Clos du Caillou Côtes du Rhône Les Quartz 2010: A blend of 85% Grenache and 15% Mourvèdre, picked at 20 hl/ha. A rich and vibrant hue here. Big sweet cherry-liqueur characteristics on the nose, with a layer of rich tones laid over the top, scents of chocolate and smoke surely reflecting some time in oak. There is a garriquey edge to the fruit, but no shortage of solid impact aromatically. There is very voluptuous texture on the start of the palate, and although it is not immediately apparent on second and subsequent tastes there is an undeniable warmth to it here as well. This comes close to dominating the palate with time, but thankfully there is a good cushion of cherry fruit to provide some counterbalance, and there is still some pepper and spice character in the end. Some grip and acid here, but they play second fiddle at best, in what is undoubtedly a ‘hedonistic’ style. Alcohol 14.5%. 14/20 (May 2012) (£135 per case, in bond)

Next up, the Châteauneuf du Pape, handled in much the same way as the Côtes du Rhône, although here 17 months was spent in older wood, 7-11 years old for the Grenache, 2-3 years for the Syrah.

Domaine du Caillou Châteauneuf du Pape Les Quartz 2010: Also a blend of 85% Grenache and 15% Mourvèdre, yield 25 hl/ha, this has a less rich hue than the Côtes du Rhône, less dense, but still showing some vibrant youth. There is a more restrained fruit character here too, albeit overlaid with a very slight hint of toffee, and again a slightly wispy nose that suggests warmth. It tends to suggest the fruit was very ripe and sugar-rich at the time of harvest. This does not show as overtly on the palate as it does in the Côtes du Rhône, but it is undeniably there, although there is also a little more balance and harmony here, more cushion for the structual elemants as well as the alcohol. Definitely more savoury, less primary, but with no let up on power and substance on the palate, backed up by pepper, tannin and spice. From a technical point of view, a very good wine. Alcohol 14.5%. 15/20 (May 2012) (£395 per case, in bond)

Pierre Gaillard, 2010 Vintage

Following on from this week’s Wine of the Week, the Pierre Gaillard Asiaticus 2010, here are notes on four more wines from Pierre Gaillard, all from the 2010 vintage.

I liked these wines; they show rather primary varietal characteristics at present, but they also show good harmony on the palate on the whole, with ripe and integrated structures, freshness and style. The Asiaticus was undoubtedly the most striking, but I woudn’t shy away from any of these, especially the Clos Cuminaille which looks like good value to me.

Although only two were marked tiré sur fût looking at the Pierre Gaillard website all his Northern Rhône cuvées spend at least 18 months in barrel so I have assumed all are barrel samples, hence the ranged scores. I have also included prices for cases, in bond, from stockist Bancroft Wines.

Pierre Gaillard, 2010

Pierre Gaillard St Joseph 2010: A moderate concentration of varietal Syrah fruit on the nose here, showing good character and suggestive of some concentration, but also rather blunted and difficult to define around the edges. A nicely rich substance on the palate though, with a light grip underneath the fruit, showing some biting structure in the midpalate and end. A nice weight to it, with firm and rather punchy acid and a light tannic backbone. Attractive if rather soft and low key at times. 14.5-15.5/20 (April 2012) (£125 per case, in bond)

Pierre Gaillard Saint Joseph Clos Cuminaille 2010: Dark, rich and spicy fruit on the nose here, very classically varietal in some of its tones, especially the blackberry fruit with that typical Syrah vein of sweetness, presented in a soft and slightly diffuse fashion, but certainly identifiable. There is a slightly woody, bracken-like quality to it as well. The palate is soft, gently polished, not especially deeply fruited or rich, the fruit a touch hollow at present, muted by the oak somewhat I think. Where the wine shows its mettle is in the finish, which has better definition than through the midpalate, showing a little grippy tannin and refreshing acidity. Very primary at present, but very harmonious and certainly showing some potential. 16-17/20 (April 2012) (£165 per case, in bond)

Pierre Gaillard Cornas 2010: A darkly coloured wine, concentrated but not opaque, and red-black in terms of hue. The nose is very muted at first but with time it reveals rich fruit aromas reminiscent of blackberry, with such a creamy, sweet intensity that it suggests blackberry purée swirled with vanilla ice cream. And yet alongside this there is a sooty, savoury note which steers the wine away from mere sweetness and simplicity. The palate is full, opening out over an hour or so, with firmly structured fruit and moderately grippy tannins through the middle of the wine, and gentle fresh acidity to the core. The fruit character isn’t quite as well defined as on the nose, but there is some frame to it, and there is certainly some substance to the finish. A wine with some good potential here. 16-17/20 (April 2012) (£260 per case, in bond)

Pierre Gaillard Côte-Rôtie 2010: Great primary fruit character on the nose here, all blackberry with the very typical sweet, buttery, crumble and vanilla ice cream character that comes with young Syrah, and underneath that there is a dark and savoury seam of aromatic, smoky, roasted meats. A good substance in the palate, similarly primary as the nose is, but with a good definition and flesh. Rich, full, more savoury than the aromatics suggested, with a dry and biting finish. Later, this settles down into a really savoury and harmonious balance. A very good style here, with really super potential. 16.5-17.5/20 (April 2012) (£310 per case, in bond)

Blind Tasting the Rhone

I currently have a lot of samples stacked up for tasting, and most of the bottles hail from the Rhône Valley, although Austria, Portugal and New Zealand are all represented.

When I have a large backlog of samples like this it is always tempting to open a dozen or more and just taste through them, especially when I have a busy period coming up (Bordeaux 2011 – my trip next week, plus all the writing up that will be required immediately on my return). But I resent doing this, because this turns an opportunity for a more thorough examination of the wine, taking my time over it, taking a second pour as required, into nothing better than a slurp’n’spit tasting. What’s the point of a busy winemaker in the Douro or Kamptal sending me a pile of bottles if that’s all I’m going to do?

What I’ve been doing instead is comparing and contrasting, blind tasting two bottles at a time, so that I get something out of the bottles (some useful palate education), but they get something out of me (some focused time). And because my family have been joining in the tasting and assessments (and I’m blown away by the tasting ability of all my three offspring, but my daughter especially – she wipes the floor with her two brothers) I’ve tried to pick out some easy contrasts. Here are the most recent two:

A 2010 Côte-Rôtie vs. 2010 Châteauneuf du Pape (both barrel samples)
This was meant to be easy, and it was. The only possible confusion might have come from the very primary nature of the fruit in both wines, but as both seemed true to (a) the varieties involved and (b) the climate the differentiation didn’t challenge anybody. My three teenagers don’t know their Rôtie from their Pape (yet) but once I gave some hints at which flavours (there was a classically sweet, brown-sugar crumble edge to the Syrah blackberry vs. the roasted-cherry Grenache) and texture (much more viscous in the warmer climate wine) then the wines were identified.

A 2010 Condrieu vs. 2010 Châteauneuf du Pape Blanc
Well, here is a pair that demonstrates the humbling effect of blind tasting; I hoped this would be another very easy comparison, but it was not, and indeed I backtracked on my first impressions. The textures were very similar, the acidities low, the aromas and flavours both reticent, at first at least. The Condrieu showed a lick of alcohol that made me think of the south, whereas the Châteauneuf showed a peachy character at first, which made me think of Viognier. But with a little time in the glass the Condrieu opened out to reveal certain aromatic Viognier characteristics, and the Châteauneuf hunkered down into a savage, savoury, rather wild character. I switched around, and got it right. My daughter, of course, once given some hints on Viognier aromas and flavours, spotted it without a hitch.

So this is fun, but also constructive and instructive, on several levels. Not only do I remind myself of the need to be analytical and precise when tasting (which blind tasting encourages I think), I also continue to show my children alcohol as something akin to music, art, theatre, film or whatever, to be enjoyed, mused over, investigated, discussed and respected, rather than as fuel for a binge-derived ‘high’. In each case we have tasted along with dinner, not a role for alcohol I was introduced to as a younger man. Will this mean their teenage years see different interactions with alcohol to those I ‘enjoyed’, one or two of which were very negative indeed? Who knows? I hope so.

The growers were Pierre Gaillard, La Ferme du Mont, François Villard and Domaine de Cristia by the way. Obviously I will write up all the wines as soon as possible, somewhere in the midst of a huge Bordeaux 2011 I suppose!